The fun and thrill you get when suspended and speeding on a cable are comparable to none. It makes you feel free, weightless, and lively from the adrenaline rush.
The good thing is that you don’t have to go out to parks or resorts to zipline anymore. Manufacturers are increasingly developing zipline kits for residential use, which you can install in your own backyard.
If this idea has crossed your mind, you are not alone. Setting up such a system will give tons of fun to your kids and keep them occupied during most of their free time.
So, how do you pick the best zipline kit? If you are a first-time buyer and don’t understand the technical jargon, we will simplify everything for you. Here are the main factors you should consider.
Let’s dive into each one.
What makes a zipline durable? The main component is the line, and since it is metallic, the type of metal determines the line’s durability.
Steel and galvanized stainless steel are the most commonly used materials. Both are strong, but steel can rust, and this happens slowly over time because the cable will be outside. However, galvanized stainless steel has a protective zinc coating that keeps moisture from getting to the core of the wire. It is weather-resistant and will last for a long time. Galvanized steel cables are also highly durable.
Another factor to consider is the quality of the bearings in the trolley. When zip lining, sheaves (trolley wheels) roll along the cable, and they can get pretty hot if their bearings are low quality. Cheap bearings will fail quickly, creating unsafe conditions and requiring frequent replacements.
However, high-quality bearings minimize friction, which reduces overheating and lets you ride smoothly without failing.
Ideally, you should check the MPH or Annular Bearing Engineering Committee (ABEC) rating, which shows the maximum speed the bearings can handle before experiencing damage.
We highly recommend the high carbon steel bearings because they can run at speeds of up to 75MPH. We’ve also found that stainless steel bearings perform exceptionally well under most conditions.
Like with other extreme sports, you need to check the limits and safety features of the backyard zipline kit to ensure your kids don’t get hurt. Age, weight, etc., you’ll see there are plenty of factors to consider. Head over to our guide on zipline safety for more on this topic.
While such kits are ideal for kids, not all of them can use the zipline. Most are not safe for toddlers and preschool children, but kids aged five and above can zipline. You need to check the age rating for your kit, as some are only for ages 8 and up. Be sure to pick one that matches the age of your little ones.
Even though the zipline kits have no upper age limit, they do have a weight limit. Most of them can carry a load weighing up to 250 pounds, which is strong enough to hold most adults.
To be on the safe side, though, we recommend getting a kit with the highest weight capacity possible because this signals a solid construction. A 350-pound limit should fit most needs you’ll have and is a great starting point.
Braking is critical in zip lining because approaching the end of the line at high speeds can lead to accidents. There are three main types of braking systems used in backyard ziplines, which we go through below.
Spring brakes are the most common stopping systems used in backyard ziplines due to their compact size. They consist of a spring roughly 5 feet long that fits around the cable at the end of the line. Once the trolley hits the spring, it begins compressing it, which slows down the rider gradually.
Rubber stoppers also fit around the cable but operate differently. Instead of compressing at the end of the wire to slow down the trolley, the rubber grips the line to provide the stopping power.
Bungee brakes require a little bit more space because they rely on bungee cords anchored to a tree or the ground to stop the trolley.
These cords attach to a padded block, which rolls freely along the cable. When the trolley hits the bar, it starts stretching the bungee cords, which slows the rider gradually before getting to the end of the line.
You might happen to come across other types of brakes, like pads and gloves, which are active braking systems that require the person riding on the line to engage them. However, they are not very common.
Other Safety Features
Your kids’ safety is paramount, so you need to check for additional protection features such as the following safety features.
Most backyard zipline kits don’t come with helmets. However, if you get a set containing one, it’s better. Otherwise, you will have to buy this piece of equipment separately, adding on more costs.
While most kits come with seats, this is not the safest option because your kid can easily fall off. Harnesses are safer alternatives as they wrap around the body and are adjustable to create a snug fit. These are more like safety belts and will hold the rider even if they overturn.
Lanyards are backup safety features for the seat or harness, and they loosely attach the rider to the trolley to keep them hanging instead of falling if things go south.
Screwed In Grips
In addition to having thick, non-slip rubber handles, look for this feature because it enhances reliability. Unscrewed grips can come off the handlebars, but the screwed-in types stay fixed to the trolley permanently and through any temperature changes.
Fully Enclosed Carriage
While enjoying the sport, some movement can see your kids place their fingers on the upper part of the trolley. If the pulleys are exposed, the fingers might get caught up between the cable and the pulleys, which would be very painful.
However, fully enclosed carriages eliminate the possibility of this happening by keeping all the rolling mechanisms covered. The design also helps maximize durability by keeping the pulleys and bearings protected from the elements.
Outside of safety, another vital factor to consider is the length of the cable. For backyard kits, it can range anywhere from 50 to 500 feet. While shorter lines will be cheaper for obvious reasons, your kids may find themselves wanting to go longer distances as they grow up.
Remember, there are the sections that wrap around trees to suspend the cable in the air. Therefore, it will be shorter after setting up.
Even if you don’t have enough space in your backyard, it is better to buy a long cable because it will enable you to set up a long course in the future once you get extra room.
It is worth noting that cables can be rough on tree trunks, so we recommend getting a kit with a protective tube. This component can also be made with a rubber garden hose and minimizes scarring on your trees.
The trolley is the component that rides on the cable, and it uses a set of pulleys to make the movement smooth from one end to the other.
There are two types of trolleys if you consider the configuration. Some have disc seats, swing seats, or harnesses, and these are perfect for kids as they are safer.
The other type only has handles, and these require more arm strength to hang on as you go for the ride. Handlebar trolleys are more geared for adults and older kids.
Ease of Assembly and Installation
Setting up a backyard zipline is a simple DIY project, but the installation time and complexity might vary depending on the kit. First things first, you need an instruction manual that explains all the steps clearly.
A fully assembled trolley also helps minimize the installation time because you won’t have to attach the seat or harness yourself.
You will need a wrench to fit the U bolt clamps, turnbuckle, and trolley. Some kits include a tri-wrench assembly tool for these tasks, which can be really helpful if you don’t have the standard tools in your toolbox.
Price and Value
Lastly, we cannot forget to talk about the crucial cost factor because you should buy what is within your budget. Some kits cost slightly above $100, but others go above the $200 mark.
What causes this difference? Most of the hardware is similar except for one component: the cable. More specifically, you’ll want to focus on the length of the line. Simple as this, the longer the wire, the more expensive the kit.
Therefore, if you are on a limited budget, consider cutting costs by shortening the cable length you need. Get something that fits your budget and your backyard, but we don’t recommend you cut corners on quality.
Backyard zip lines are undoubtedly fun for kids and their parents. They are also easy to set up, and you can have the system up and running in less than an hour.
Best of luck in your search and we hope that some of our pointers here help you pick out the right zipline for you and your kids. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.